The North Sage and the South Sage met at the crossroads. Or on, let’s say, a mountaintop. They began to discuss what they knew about the world, in the hopes of becoming wiser. Neither would call what they believed a religion.
But only until Friday.
I have a ridiculous idea for a game that will momentarily yield one of the most powerful computers ever.
I didn’t have the idea first, exactly. There’s a piece of software called FlashMob that automatically links whatever computers are nearby into a temporary grid computer. So, you could, for example, invite everyone over for pizza and run your cryptography hack until after the movie finished.
Of course, the software takes its name from flash mob the social experiment. Game. Movement, whatever. So what about putting the game back in the software?
It would require one concept and after that, one email. The email would be from a reasonably socially connected person in any large and wired city to all of their friends and all the appropriate lists. The email would direct everyone to install FlashMob on their laptops, set their wireless to join a particular network, and request them to show up at a particular time and place
The concept is the hard part. This is the thing that would make people come, because it is the thing that would make it art. The central question is: what could you compute in an hour on five hundred laptops that was so cool or beautiful that it would inspire people to make it real?
One of my friends has helpfully pointed out that today is World Toilet Day. According to the World Toilet Organization, fully 40% of the world’s people do not have access to proper sanitation facilities.
We do deserve better; I for one don’t particularly enjoy squatting in the bushes. The World Toilet Organization agrees, and sponsors World Toilet Summits and World Toilet Expos, “wherein all toilet and sanitation organizations can learn from one another and leverage on media and global support that in turn can influence governments to promote sound sanitation and public health policies.” They also started the first World Toilet College, providing training in toilet design, maintenance, school sanitation, disaster sanitation, and implementation of sustainable sanitation systems.
Okay, you can snicker now. I know I am.
This would be even funnier if it wasn’t actually serious — human waste is a major disease carrier if not handled correctly, and an awful lot of people are still just pooping on the ground or in the river. But let’s not dwell on negatives; in the carefree spirit of World Toilet Day, I thought I’d briefly discuss, and show some pictures, of the types of toilets I’ve encountered in various parts of the world. Travel yields many surprises, and, astonishingly, there were places where I had to learn to wipe my ass all over again. (“Don’t you know how to use the three seashells?” indeed.)
It’s very hard to understand the world in the abstract, without walking its cracked pavement or trying to have a conversation with someone impossibly different from you. Wikipedia defines a “developing country” as a nation “that has not reached Western-style standards of democratic government, free market economy, industrialization, social programs, and human rights guarantees for their citizens.” But this glossy language never prepared me for the things I saw almost immediately that first time I landed somewhere poor. This list is a primer for those who have not yet had the mind-blowing experience of stepping outside the castle walls.
Science is sometimes really tricky, which makes writing about it even trickier. No real experiment exists apart from a huge background of assumptions, abstractions, caveats and complexities; the writer’s job is to find a strong narrative that is understandable with little or no prior knowledge, scans well, and catches the reader’s attention.
Recent research on physiological differences between liberal and conservative voters seems like a dream come true if you’re in need of a catchy press release, like this one from the National Science Foundation. I read the actual paper, and it says that people who answer more conservatively on a questionnaire about their politics tend also to have more pronounced “fight-or-flight” reactions to disturbing or surprising stimuli, as measured by skin conductance and startle response.
The press release tells a different story, and I believe that the NSF science writer told the wrong story. I attribute this partially to the politics of publicity, but mostly to the fact that science is actually very subtle, and hard to summarize.